I recently read this tweet from the American Public Health association:
Globally, 70,000 people a year die of rabies. Learn the facts as part of World Rabies Day today:http://www.worldrabiesday.org/
My first thought, of course, was: “We need a Michael Scott’s Dunder Mifflin Scranton Meredith Palmer Memorial Celebrity Rabies Awareness Pro-Am Fun Run For The Cure!”
In all seriousness, though, I had no idea there was a World Rabies Day (or that it was today). In the case of Rabies, a viral infection spread through a mammal vector such as a dog, we do have a cure. Unfortunately, as soon as a person begins developing symptoms, which can arise anywhere from 7 days to 10 years after a bite, there is little hope of recovery.
As many of us learned from the episode of The Office in which this MSDMSMPMCRAPAF Run For The Cure occurred, only about 4 to 5 people die of Rabies in the United States every year. If a person can get to a hospital and begin the preventative vaccination series within a day of the bite, there is almost a 100% chance that they will not develop rabies.
So to sum up: Get bitten. Get vaccine? Live. Don’t get vaccine? Die.
Rabies is one of many many diseases in the world for which there IS and effective cure and for which there ARE effective public health prevention strategies, but that are still ravaging many countries. So why are 70,000 people a year dying from rabies? And why are many millions or tens of millions more people dying from other preventable and curable diseases?
Mostly, the answer is twofold: 1) Lack of education and 2) Lack of access to appropriate and effective medical care facilities. If a person doesn’t know that they can get a deadly disease from an animal bite, they are not going to seek out treatment, especially if they don’t develop symptoms for weeks, months, or even years. Similarly, a person may know that animal bites are dangerous, but they are willing to take a chance that the animal didn’t have rabies or that they won’t develop rabies because walking 50 kilometers to the nearest medical facility would mean that they would lose their job. Or they simply can’t afford the treatment.
Of course, one answer would be that health care systems need more money and resources. But in many places, that simply isn’t feasible. Maybe there needs to be a more efficient use of existing resources? As much as 70,000 deaths is, there is a marginal return rate on resource investment where investing additional dollars into this one disease doesn’t make sense economically.
There are many diseases, HIV/AIDS and cancer being the two that come to mind, that don’t yet have cures and which affect many millions of people every single year. But there are so many other diseases which we have the scientific knowledge to eradicate, just like we did for smallpox and polio (for the most part).
The question is, how do we put this knowledge into action?